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Friday, 22 May 1970

Mr BROWN (Diamond Valley) - Mr Deputy Speaker,I wish initially to make some brief comments about some of the remarks that have fallen from Opposition members in this debate. 1 would have thought that no one on this side of the House could have taken any exception whatever to what the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) said. What he said was an unqualified support for the legislation and the proposals contained in the legislation. I would have thought that the proposal now in hand for the construction of additional teachers colleges merited the complete and unqualified approval of this House.

The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) made 2 comments which I think deserve to be taken up at this stage. The first of them was a comment to the effect that the Commonwealth should not have engaged in this piecemeal approach to remedying the problems of education, but that it should be looking in detail by means of a survey of some sort or some more detailed inquiry into the real and overall needs of education in Australia. When I interjected, perhaps somewhat out of order, and reminded him that the Commonwealth and the States were already at this time involved in an inquiry into the needs of education in Australia he replied that it was too late to be engaging in inquiries of this nature. I would have thought that the kindest remark that I could make about that is that it is something of a logical slip. It seems to me that one cannot on one hand say that the Commonwealth should be conducting a detailed inquiry into the overall needs of education in Australia and on the other hand assert that if there is such an inquiry in progress at the moment it is too late, it is a waste of time and the Commonwealth need not go on with it anyway.

The second matter on which I should make comment, with respect to the observations of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, is his statement that the States are sick and tired of the interference by the Commonwealth in the intricate details of specific aspects of the various construction programmes that the Commonwealth assists. No doubt he had in mind the teachers colleges programme, the science blocks programme and the library programme in particular. If I understood him correctly he meant to say that the Commonwealth was interfering in the detailed aspects of the construction of buildings, libraries, science blocks and so on. This comment is not, of course, confined to the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. It is a criticism of the activities of the Commonwealth in education which is quite frequently made. Indeed some State government officials and even Ministers make the same criticism. The only point I want to make about that is that it is in my view a completely unwarranted and unjustified criticism of the activities of the Commonwealth Government in these particular education projects. The former Minister for Education and Science, who is now the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser), at the very least has completely denied that there is any such intrusion by the Commonwealth in that respect or that there is any excessive supervision of the size of windows, doors, the heights of walls and so on to which the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith specifically referred.

It seems to me quite legitimate to say that the Commonwealth should take far more of a part in the education programmes of the States and it should take a part in more specific programmes to improve education in the States. But the only thing I want to say at this stage is that it is a completely unwarranted criticism of the Commonwealth to say that there is detailed, intricate interference by the Commonwealth in the buildings that are put up and the way in which they are erected.

With all due respect to the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy), it seems to me that the vast bulk of his comments had nothing to do with this legislation at all, which of course is concerned solely with teachers colleges. He did make one comment that did - if I may stretch the definition - appear to be relevant. Honourable members will recall that the honourable member for Bendigo took the Minister for Education and Science (Mr N. H. Bowen) to task for the statement made in his second reading speech when he said:

This increase is designed to assist the States with their teacher education programmes at a realistic and reasonable level and was determined in the light of current experience and knowledge of building costs.

The honourable member for Bendigo took great exception to the words 'realistic and reasonable' and he wanted to know precisely what they meant. I would have thought, with great respect to the honourable member for Bendigo, that the intent of what the Minister was saying in his second reading speech was abundantly clear. What the Minister was saying was that there is an identifiable need in education in this particular area; that there is a desperate need for a great increase in the teaching force of all the State education departments, and indeed in the private school system. Of course the Minister is drawing attention to the fact that the $30m to be made available by the Commonwealth under this scheme will go a long way towards meeting the needs of the States in providing teachers in State schools.

Mr Kennedy - How far?

Mr BROWN - I do not know whether the honourable member for Bendigo is suggesting that there would still be a shortage of teachers and that there will still be a need for additional teachers in the future. If that is what he is saying, it seems to me to be a completely trite and superficial observation about an obvious state of affairs. There will always be a need for an increased and improved teacher education programme. There will always be a need for an improved and expanded school building programme and a financing programme for every single aspect of education and not only for the provision of school teachers. My understanding is - and I have been given to believe that this is correct - that this proposal will make available some 6,000 places in teachers colleges. That is to say, 6,000 additional places in teachers colleges will be made available because of the extensions to teacher training colleges and the new colleges being built with this money from the Commonwealth. It seems to me quite clear that, although these 6,000 additional places in teachers colleges will not completely solve the problem, it can be justifiably said to be a wholesale attack on the problem of the shortage of teachers throughout this country. It is a very serious and wholesale attack on the problem. The provision of an additional 6,000 places in teachers colleges will go a very long way towards solving the problem of the shortage of teachers in Australia.

I will now turn to a few brief comments of my own that I wish to make on this legislation. It seems to me fair to say that the Bill marks another substantial contribution by the Commonwealth Government to the improvement of education in Australia. The benefits for education in Australia will be seen in an increase in the number of teachers available in the nation, an improvement in the quality of teaching and the acquisition by the States of substantial assets in the form of teacher college buildings. To take only my own State of Victoria as an example, the legislation and the grants to follow it will mean the construction of Stage 1 of the Latrobe Teachers College and extensions to the teachers colleges at Coburg, Burwood, Monash, Melbourne, Frankston and Bendigo. The honourable member for Bendigo is no doubt pleased to hear of this although I cannot recall him making any specific reference to it in his own speech. The benefit to Victoria from the grants to be made under this legislation is obvious. Without the grants these buildings would not have been built, or would not have been built for many years to come.

As I said, it is obvious advantage that is being conferred by this legislation. The Commonwealth is making a real and substantial contribution to education in the States. Two points deserve specific emphasis at the outset. The first is that this is not the first occasion on which the Commonwealth Government has made substantial grants to the States for the construction of teachers colleges. The first scheme, which operated from 1967 to 1970, provided S24m to the States for this purpose. But the scheme embodied in the Bill now before the House is for the provision of $30m for the next triennium - an increase of S6m. The Commonwealth is therefore providing S54m to the States in 6 years for the construction of teachers colleges. There has been a call made throughout this nation for action in education. The Commonwealth's teachers college programme is real action. The expenditure of millions of dollars on teachers colleges is having a direct impact on education in Australia. It is concrete evidence that this Government does not merely talk about education, but that it is acting.

The second point that should be made is that the payment of grants to a State under this legislation is conditional on 10% of the new places at teachers colleges in the State made available by the grants made under the legislation being held by student teachers not bonded to serve State education departments. That provision in the Bill is another assistance to the independent school system which contributes so much to education in Australia and which is so deserving of support. One would have thought that the debate on the advisability of giving financial aid, in measures such as this, to nongovernment schools would be well over by now. Apparently the travail in the Victorian section of the Australian Labor Party indicates that in that bastion of conservative radicalism - I cannot think of any other way to describe it - doubts still linger about the wisdom of State aid for independent schools.

The teachers college programme is a clear case of the need for assistance to the independent school system. Those schools need teachers just as much as do government schools, and in many cases some of them are in even more desperate need for additional teachers. Commonwealth assistance is being given to provide teachers in government schools and it is only fair, reasonable and just that assistance should be given to provide additional teachers in nongovernment schools. The legislation should be welcomed from all sides because, as I have said, it will make a substantial contribution to improving the quality of education in Australia - and there is plenty of scope for improvement. A great deal of criticism has been levelled at the Commonwealth and State governments in recent years for what is alleged to be a neglect of education. I am quite sure that many of the critics do not appreciate the tremendous problems that all governments in Australia have in providing adequate classrooms, equipment and teachers and in providing a better quality of education.

In a rapidly developing country such as Australia resources are stretched over many competing needs. The problem of education is not merely one of providing classrooms, teachers and money; it is a problem of doing so in the sprawling suburbs where the people live and where the education must be provided. Ti is a problem of catering for an ever-increasing school population. It is a problem of catering for a school population that is staying at school longer and is demanding more education. It is a problem of keeping up with all the modern refinements of a sophisticated education system requiring modern equipment and facilities and better trained teachers. Above all, it is a problem of finding the resources for a costly education programme at the same time as finding resources to develop a continent - to build dams and engage in all the construction and developmental projects that Australia is engaged on at present. If the critics of the education system in Australia mean that Australia's education system still has deficiences and areas of inadequacy, then I readily agree with them. If, on the other hand, they mean that governments in Australia today do not have an awareness of the importance of education and of the need greatly to improve the quality of education being provided here, then I reject those criticisms completely.

Who can look at the increased involvement of the Commonwealth Government in education in the last few years and say that it is not concerned? Who can look at the library and science block programmes and say that the Commonwealth is not trying to locate areas of need where it can help? Above all, who can deny that the Commonwealth has a vital role to play in education or that it is not taking positive steps to realise that role? It grieves me when I look at the achievements of the State governments and of the Commonwealth Government in education in recent years to see the critics wipe those achievements aside completely as though they were nothing and condemn Australian governments for neglecting education.

There is one final point that I wish to make. Again I must come back to the comments made by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. Honourable members may recall that 1 took issue with him when he raised the alleged interference by the Commonwealth Government in the intricate details of the States carrying out the specific education programmes that the Commonwealth is involved in at the moment - the science block programme, libraries programme and the teachers college programme. As I said then, the criticism is quite often made that Commonwealth officers are going out to particular building sites armed with their rulers and tape measures and are saying to State officers: 'You humble State officers; do not put that nail in there, and make that window 2 inches wider than it is' and so on and so forth. That criticism is frequently made, and it is always wrong.

Let me take up the other aspect of the same problem. By way of illustration I refer to a particular project under foot in my own electorate - a library project being built at a secondary school. Criticisms and comments were made that the project was not proceeding as rapidly as it should, and as this was a project that initially was being financed by the Commonwealth Government I made inquiries about the progress of the job at the Commonwealth Department of Education and Science. I make no criticism of the officers of that Department when I say that I was informed that they did not know anything about the progress. They did not know what stage it was at and the reply was given, as I understand it is given on these occasions, that this was a matter for the States. Money is given to the States, which carry out the particular job for which the money has been provided.

I emphasise that I make no criticism of the officers of the Commonwealth Department nor, indeed, of the department carrying out that particular policy, but it does seem to me quite proper to say that at this stage of our development the Commonwealth perhaps should be taking a greater particular interest in the carrying out of projects of this nature. Not only should the Commonwealth be engaging in additional areas of educational activity, but it could well be keeping a closer supervision over the expenditure of grants on particular projects. Rue the day when the Commonwealth has to concern itself with the width of a window or the height of a wall, but it does seem quite fair to say that the grants being made by the Commonwealth should be spent in such a way that the Commonwealth Government is able to supervise the expenditure. It certainly should be aware of the progress of certain jobs that are being carried out with these particular grants.

Although this is perhaps not a matter on which there might be a wide degree of public support at present - there is certainly some support - the Commonwealth should investigate other areas of education where it can help and where it can take part. The success of the science blocks programme, the libraries programme, the teachers college programme and the other programmes in which the Commonwealth has been involved, is obvious. I would have thought that this would encourage the Commonwealth to look into further areas where it could help in a degree of partnership with the States. It is significant, of course - and I referred to this before - that there is in progress at the moment a survey of the educational needs of Australia. This is a survey in which the Commonwealth and State governments are taking part.

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